How to Create a Magazine for the People: an Interview with Hanna Hanra

Whenever I walk into a newsagent’s in search for a music magazine that appeals to my wide ranging tastes, the wall of white male rock faces always leaves an overwhelming taste of disappointment in my mouth. Is it a long running joke or a seething hatred of all that is different that has resulted in the music industry’s refusal to represent the true diversity of talent in the music scene? That taste of disappointment quickly changes to proactive, forceful questioning of why isn’t there more on offer.

The usual defence thrown back at us is that music magazines that showcase more people of colour, women and trans people do not sell. Of course this is not true, as we have seen through the success of independent magazines that reflect the truly diverse nature of the artists creating our culture.

One such magazine is the free arts and culture magazine, BEAT, founded by DJ, writer and editor extraordinaire, Hanna Hanra. Since its inception in late 2010, BEAT has gone on to feature artists such as Grimes, The xx, Sky Ferreira and Dev Hynes, with Hanra behind the wheel. In an era where it is hard to decipher what music magazines truly stand for, an independent, exciting magazine driven by new artists is most welcome, so I was pleased to take the opportunity to have a chat with Hanna about BEAT‘s longevity and also touch on topics such as her experiences as a DJ and her thoughts on the 1990s grrrl revival…

Why did you start BEAT magazine? What do you think it offers that other music magazines do not?

I started BEAT because I wanted to make something that was different to other music press that was around at that time – something that comfortably covered a wide range of music, that had a strong aesthetic value, was widely available and free for the consumer to enjoy. I have always worked in magazines and music. I’d produced a fanzine for a long time before and really felt like there was a niche in the market for a magazine like BEAT.

Why did you decide to make BEAT a free magazine?

It was very important to me that BEAT was free – and that it remains that way. It is how our audience consumes information. Why not tap into that and give them something that is high quality in production and aesthetic? Also, logistically it’s easier to dump a box of magazines and run away than it is to organise selling them; when you start a magazine on your own that’s important!

I love the internet but with print comes a certain feeling of each issue being like a time capsule from a time and a place

You mentioned that you produced a fanzine before, can you tell us a bit about that? What attracts you to fanzine culture?

Fanzines have always interested me, I’m not sure why, I think it’s an aesthetic…as much as anything; I love DIY graphics and the culture that surround them. Of course a blog is — in many senses — a fanzine but there’s something so home crafted about fanzines that I just love.

After five years what has surprised you most about running BEAT?

That it actually comes out and people read it! Sometimes there’s a real moment when I think that I will be stuck in a vortex of emails forever and that there will never be a physical magazine at the end. And then there it is. And people read it and stick it on their walls and reference it and it makes it all worthwhile. I’ve gotten to meet and work with amazing people who I respect and admire … and make this creature.

There are many music publications that have always been online or have made the switch from print to digital. What made you decide to make BEAT a print magazine?

I decided to make it print because it seemed like a natural evolution from what I was already doing. It wasn’t a big decision. I love the internet but with print comes a certain feeling of each issue being like a time capsule from a time and a place, if that makes sense.

The first thing that struck me about the magazine was the photography. How important is the artwork to the overall image of the magazine?

Hugely important. That was the whole point, to make something with these great images. I’ve worked a lot on music with fashion designers in the past, designing the music for their shows and there is pretty much always an iconic music moment on their mood boards. But I don’t see that much iconic imagery of bands happening now, it seems a lot of the time to be reduced to standing in front of a brick wall in East London looking downcast.

I tend to DJ for brands rather than in clubs, which is where sexism, if any, would be more likely to take place

Who was your favourite artist to interview in BEAT magazine?

There’s been loads. The ones that surprise me are my favourite. I interviewed Moses Sumney for the cover of the last issue. He doesn’t have a record deal, or a manager, or released anything, but he is so interesting and eloquent and insightful. Then obviously there’s Dave Grohl and Debbie Harry.

You’re also a DJ? Many female DJs have experienced sexism while working in a male dominated environment. Can you tell us more about your experiences of being a DJ?

I tend to DJ for brands rather than in clubs, which is where any sexism, if any, would be more likely to take place. The kind of DJing I do now is much more involved in shaping a brand’s relationship with music, rather than filling a dance floor. So, no, I personally have not experienced any sexism. Although, yes, if you look at the top 100 DJs, it is certainly a very male dominated space.

What is your favourite song to play in a DJ set?

Depends where it is, what the party is, who’s there, what the vibe is, what mood I’m in. It can really vary from hip-hop to post punk to something new. That’s the great thing about DJing; it’s so flexible.

Do you have any up and coming artists or bands that you admire currently?

Yeah loads, practically a new one every day. Sometimes it’s hard to sift through new music but when something brilliant comes through it really shines.

What do you think about the 1990s revival of riot grrrl aligned bands? Do you think it is a positive moment for the music scene?

Why would it not be a positive thing? I think any girl who wants to pick up an instrument or write down some words and sing them can only be a good thing, no matter how naive-sounding the music.

What do you expect will lie in the future of the magazine?

The future is unwritten, as Joe Strummer said. So who knows? Hopefully we will keep growing.

Image description:

Black and white head and shoulders shot of a chilled out and thoughtful looking Hanna Hanra dressed in white. By Eleanor Morgan. All rights reserved.

Stephanie Phillips is a journalist and blogger who runs her own blog about women in music called Don’t Dance Her Down Boys. She is currently involved in London-based black feminist punk band, Big Joanie. She also co-runs the South London-based riot grrrl club night Bloody Ice Cream. You can follow her on twitter @stephanopolus